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Women in STEM: Kamila Navarro on cultivating scientists in Science Communication

The media is frequently criticized for tying in scientific jargon in reportage without explanations, such as in the case of storm surges during supertyphoon Yolanda, phreatic explosions for Taal Volcano’s eruption, and even the recent coronavirus disease outbreak. 

Be it due to a lack of reliable information or the inability to properly communicate with the source of information and relay the knowledge to the public, translating complex terminologies to layman’s terms often proves difficult, yet it is a significant undertaking even in Mass Communication. 

There is a great chance that introducing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) topics to Communication majors—and vice versa—would be seen as unnecessary, but it was a “challenge” Kamila Navarro was ready to undertake. 

Very much so, the challenge was in the form of teaching and advocating for Science Communication, which she defines as “effectively communicating scientific concepts to non-specialists—which may be the general public or researchers from other fields.”

The dawning

Navarro shares in an interview with The LaSallian that since her undergraduate days, she has always been in touch with STEM, disclosing that she took up Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines Diliman. 

Soon after graduating, however, she realized that starting a career as a scientist in the Philippines then was “tough”. She expounds, “Unfortunately, our government does not appreciate STEM enough, and so as a young government scientist back in 2015, my working conditions weren’t the best.”

While being a scientist per se was out of the question at the time, Navarro found a way to “still remain immersed in Science” by detouring to a slightly different career path—pursuing further studies in Science Communication. 

Just before finishing her graduate degree in Australian National University in 2018, Navarro recounts emailing Dr. Jan Bernadas, an associate professor of the DLSU’s Communication Department, and expressing her intent to return to the Philippines to teach. Bernadas then referred her to the then department chair, Dr. Cheryll Soriano, and as Navarro puts it, “the rest was history.”

And history she did make, as her time in DLSU did not limit her to working solely in her department. 

Not long after being integrated into the University, Navarro found herself collaborating with the Br. Alfred Shields FSC Ocean Research Center in developing a set of educational modules for their Coastal Scouts (CScouts) project. This program, she explains, is “a teaching endeavor that aims to educate primary school children along coastal communities as well as private universities about the various coastal ecosystems and ways to manage these ecosystems.” 

Through this opportunity, Navarro was also able to work with experts from Science Education, Biology, and Communication.

Furthering her mission

Formerly spearheading the Science Communication elective of DLSU’s Communication Department, Navarro reveals that helping her students realize that Science is “actually something worth talking about” was a welcome endeavor.

“Honestly, garnering interest in the first place [was a major struggle]. I primarily taught Communications majors, and a lot of them went into [Communication] precisely because they didn’t like Science,” she reasons. 

This did not stop her, however, as she mentions that the University’s inclination toward and prioritization of STEM research in recent years only helped her cause in furthering Science Communication. “A lot of faculty members are intensifying their research efforts, and more are recognizing that communicating their output to stakeholders is a key part of the research process,” she shares.

Moreover, in asserting that communicating Science is “a two-way street”, Navarro points out, “If scientists keep on spouting jargon, is it really the media and [the] public’s fault that they misinterpret the situation? No.” She further emphasizes that scientists should learn how to properly communicate Science in a “clear and accessible manner.”

Navarro continues that in order to adapt to the need, she hopes that DLSU will offer a Science Communication minor program soon, “or it will risk being left behind, as scientific and technological advances continue to drastically reshape our world,” she voices out.

Now, Navarro has gone beyond La Salle and currently works for Asian Scientist Magazine in Singapore. However, she remains in touch with the Philippine scientific and academic sector, putting forward that Science Communication should be a required subject in STEM degree programs.

“We are already seeing the consequences of poor science communication from our local researchers and scientists…It’s clear that Science Communication is an essential skill that needs to be cultivated in the next generation of scientists,” she says.

As a former lecturer and an advocate, Navarro still lives out and pushes for her own personal mission: to highlight the need for Science Communication Education, particularly in the Philippines, and to help train scientists and other interested communicators in effective science communication.

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